Joseph of the New Testament is an interesting character. Nearly everyone knows of him, but little is known of him.
His trade is a carpenter; an angel visits him; he marries Mary, the mother of Jesus; at least in one period of his life he seemed to travel a lot, but not by choice; and he appears to make decisions based on God’s Word. He is mentioned by name 11 times within three books of the Bible, mostly the retelling of the same story – the birth of Jesus. The Bible says nothing of his death; the last mention of Joseph is when Jesus is 12 years old (even here the story does not mention Joseph by name; it refers to Mary and Joseph as “his parents”). Since we do read of Mary and Jesus’ half brothers and sisters in the narrative of Jesus’ adult years, the assumption is that Joseph has died.
As the custom was in those days, girls would marry within a few years after being physically able to bear children. Therefore, Mary would have probably been around 14 to 16 years old. Joseph, on the other hand, would have been expected to be able to afford his place and provide for a wife and children. The usual marrying age for men in that culture at that period would have been somewhere from the mid-20s to the early-30s. Therefore, Joseph being 15 or even 20 years older than Mary would not have been out of the ordinary.
Engagements also worked differently back then. In Mary and Joseph’s day, an engagement was legally binding. Today, if a guy pops the question and she says “yes” and something goes sour, and she ends up throwing the ring across the room at him, the marriage is off, and the unhappy couple split and go their separate ways. However, in first century Israel, engagement can only be dissolved by legal divorce, even if the split is before the marriage. This situation is the problem Joseph found himself in the night an angel visited him.
Matthew 1:19-20, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream …”
There is no record of Mary telling Joseph what is going on. From the conversation between Joseph and the angel it appears he knows nothing of the miraculous conception. Mary left the situation to God. Odds are Joseph would not have believed Mary if she had told him she was still a virgin.
Joseph had three options – 1. He could go on with the wedding and raise the child as his own. 2. He could divorce her publicly by bringing Mary to the law and have her stoned to death for the sin of adultery. 3. He could divorce her privily, and each would go their separate ways. From the passage, we see he was leaning toward a private divorce.
The angel intervenes and tells Joseph what is going on, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
The story goes on to tell us that the child is God in the flesh, Matthew 1:23, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Joseph with reassurances from God, through the angel, marries Mary and raises Jesus.
Raising Jesus must have had its challenges; after all, He was the sinless child. Imagine if Joseph finds a hammer broken and attempts to find out who did it. When the other children say, “Not me!” and Jesus says, “It was James.” Joseph would have to take His word for it after all the child is God.
As everyday life passed by, I wonder how easy it was for Joseph to forget who Jesus was; while changing His diaper, watching Him take His first steps, play in the dirt, run a race with the neighbor boys, it would seem natural to forget that small child is the Creator of the Universe.
We will be celebrating the birth of Jesus before the month passed, let us not forget that the Babe in the manger is Saviour of the world.